Robert M. Danin

Middle East Matters

Danin analyzes critical developments and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

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This Week: Hamas-Israel Fighting Escalates and Iraq’s New President

by Robert M. Danin
July 24, 2014

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo July 22, 2014 (Dharapak/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo July 22, 2014 (Dharapak/Courtesy Reuters).

Significant Developments

Gaza-Israel. Secretary of State John Kerry has drafted a new cease-fire proposal which has been presented to Israel and Hamas. Kerry, due to leave Cairo on Friday for Washington, is reportedly waiting to hear Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal’s response to the proposal from the Qatari and Turkish foreign ministers. While Kerry and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon have been shuttling around the Middle East in search of a cease-fire, the prospects for an immediate halt to the fighting in Gaza do not appear imminent. Kerry returned to Cairo yesterday evening after meeting with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Following Kerry’s departure, the Israeli security cabinet met to discuss the possibility of expanding the ground operation in Gaza. Ban Ki-moon, while in Israel, called for an immediate end to the hostilities on both sides. Meanwhile, Meshaal said today that Hamas would only agree to a cease-fire if Israel were to end its siege on Gaza. Abbas gave a speech on Tuesday supporting Hamas’s cease-fire demands, an apparent move from his earlier support for an Egyptian cease-fire proposal that was rejected by Hamas.

Ban also condemned an Israeli attack on an UNRWA school and shelter in Gaza today which killed 15 and wounded 200 others, including UN staff. The IDF said that its soldiers were fired at from the school prior to their attack on it. During a special session of the UN Human Rights Council yesterday, Chief Navi Pillay criticized the conduct of Hamas and Israel in the recent fighting. The council voted to establish a commission of inquiry into alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza. The death toll has exceeded 770 on the Palestinian side, with 32 Israeli military fatalities. Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration last night announced the end of to a 48-hour ban on flights to Tel Aviv that was strongly opposed by Israeli officials.

Iraq. The parliament in Baghdad elected Fouad Massoum, co-founder of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, president of Iraq today after the five main Kurdish blocs settled on a presidential candidate late last night. According to the constitution, Iraqi lawmakers now have fifteen days to select a new prime minister. Violence continued today as 17 Iraqis were killed in two suicide bombings in Baghdad and a separate attack on a prison bus en route to the capital killed 61—nine policemen and 52 prisoners. Meanwhile, thousands of Christians fled Mosul this week as jihadists confiscated homes and took over churches. The exodus comes after ISIS called for the execution of Mosul’s Christians if they refused to convert to Islam or pay a religious tax. Many Christians have found refuge in Kurdish-controlled Irbil.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, speaking at a news conference in Baghdad today, expressed concern over Iraq’s “existential threat” and urged politicians to form an inclusive government. Ban then met with Iraq’s top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in Najaf. The visit to Iraq is the latest in the secretary general’s regional tour: earlier this week, Ban traveled to Egypt and Israel, and is slated to continue on to Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Iraq. In a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing yesterday, Brett McGurk, deputy assistant secretary of state, said that the Islamic State is a “full-blown army,” not just a terrorist organization, and that it is worse than al-Qaeda.Pentagon officials said that the number of U.S. military personnel on the ground in Iraq has increased to 825, including 90 advisors who are assessing the capabilities of Iraqi forces.

Iran. The P5+1 countries and Iran announced early Saturday that negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program will be extended for four additional months. The extension was announced one day before the original July 20 negotiating deadline. With the extension, Iran is expected to gain access to $2.8 billion in assets previously frozen in the United States. However, Secretary of State John Kerry said that sanctions against oil sales and other major sources of income will not be lifted. The new deadline for completion of a comprehensive agreement is November 24.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Syria. Fighting intensified in Damascus this week. On Tuesday, eastern Damascus witnessed the worst clashes in months between rebels and pro-regime forces, one day after rebels began to push ISIS militants out of southern Damascus in an effort to expel them from their strongholds. Seven hundred Syrians were killed over a 48-hour period last week in clashes between ISIS militants and pro-government forces in what the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called the deadliest fighting in Syria since the civil war began in 2011.

Libya. The Higher National Elections Commission announced Monday the results of Libya’s June parliamentary elections, indicating a dip in support for the country’s Islamist forces. Meanwhile, nine people were killed in Benghazi yesterday evening in clashes between Islamist militants and government forces, capping a week of some of the fiercest fighting in Benghazi and Tripoli since 2011. The fighting around the Tripoli airport damaged a fuel tanker yesterday in a development expected to exacerbate fuel shortages in the city.

Kuwait. In its latest move to quell dissent, Kuwait’s cabinet announced Monday its decision to strip five opposition figures of their citizenship. The figures include the owner of a pro-opposition newspaper and satellite channel, and a former lawmaker and member of the opposition along with three members of his family. The move comes weeks after thousands of people took to the street to protest a court decision to hold prominent opposition leader and former parliament member Musallam al-Barrak for questioning for insulting the judiciary.

Tunisia. Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa’s office announced Sunday its decision to shut down all mosques in the country not under control of the government authorities. The move came after alleged mosque celebrations following the killing of fourteen soldiers last week.

Saudi Arabia. Regulatory officials announced Tuesday that Saudi Arabia will open its $530 billion stock market toforeign investors in 2015. The move is designed to attract investment for a large scale infrastructure and employment initiative designed to benefit Saudi citizens.

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